Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Knut Avenstroup Haugen

I am extremely humbled to give you the interview with the man who paints Hyboria with his music: Age of Conan's composer Mr  Knut Avenstroup Haugen.

1/ Your musical interpretation of Hyborian era is always spot on so I guess the most important question that I want to ask you is how much do you really know about Conan and Hyboria itself? Have you came in contact with Robert E.Howard's work before starting your Age of Conan project? Or perhaps this was more "learn as you go" type of experience. Were you doing any research into Hyboria yourself or had support from Funcom's lore expert to guide your through?

I have been a Conan fan since I was a kid. I read the comic books and watched the two Schwarzenegger films. I had not read Howards’ stories though, so before I started work on the game, I read all of them. I also got a lot of research material from Funcom of course and we discussed lore, storyline, characters etc. for each area of the game.

2/ While I can imagine that artist creating concept art for the game could have based their works on already existing comics or Mr. Frazetta's paintings, you had to single-handedly craft a soundtrack to a whole world. How does one deal with such a challenge?  Where did the inspiration come from?

I draw my inspiration from many sources. I too get inspired from paintings and artwork: I love Frazetta’s paintings and I studied all the artwork and concepts for the game before I started working. Of course, I also draw my inspiration from storyline, characters etc. – anything that conveys the feeling for the area in question and the game as a whole.  I always find that listening to a lot of music is the best way to start when trying to find a “sound” for a project. I look for anything I can find that might be of help for the project in question, be it classical music, ethnic music or whatever. To find the overall feeling for the score, I think the most important factors are knowing the universe you are going to compose for and knowing what you are trying to achieve with the music. 

3/ The soundtrack to the Conan the Barbarian (1982 film) is probably the only Hyboria related musical piece that  pre-dates your work on Age of Conan. Did that soundtrack have any impact on your work? Were you aware of it? Inspired by it? Tried to create something totally different?

Yes, yes, yes and yes :) Of course I knew Basil Poledouris’ scores for both Barbarian and Destroyer (1984). The original 1982 score is one of my all time favourites. A lot of Conan fans also know this music and some feel that this is the only suitable music for anything relating to Conan. The challenge for me as a composer was to retain some of the feeling of the old film scores and to make my score new and fresh at the same time. Because the world of Age of Conan is much bigger than that of the films, the score also needed to be more varied to be able to convey a unique feel for each country. When you listen to them, I think you may feel that both Poledouris score and my score belong in the same universe, even though they are different, and that’s excactly what I was trying to achieve.

4/ Hyborian empires and kingdoms are based on certain civilizations and cultures (even thou in the story itself Hyboria predates our civilization). Khitai is not ancient China or Japan, but rather a mix of Asian culture as a whole. Your music, and especially soundtracks to both Khitai and Turan, really shows that. What is your approach to creating musical pieces to those fictional kingdoms and how are you achieving this unique sound that is a blend of different music styles and cultures?

I did a lot of research into traditional music from the several real-world counterparts to the countries in the game. Like you say, this is most obvious in Khitai and Turan, even though I also did it for the rest of the game. I studied Chinese and Japanese music and instruments for 3 months very intensively before I wrote a single note for Rise of the Godslayer and I hired Chinese musicians as soloists for the score. The Khitai music is actually authentic Chinese music blended with elements of Japanese music and western classical music. For Turan I used Persian music as my main source of inspiration, but chose a more old-school approach of emulating styles and rhythms with a western symphony orchestra (in the tradition of Goldsmith and the early greats of film scoring). For Secrets of Dragon’s Spine I wanted to create a more generic and traditional Conan score and bring the essence of what I believe a Conan score should sound like, back to the game. This part of the game is highly influenced by Russian choir traditions, folk music and Russian romantic and neo-classical composers like Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev.

5/ When creating music for the new content how are you working together with AOC's team? Do you begin your work early on and base it only on the concept art/descriptions of the zone or perhaps you begin to craft your music when the zone is in the final stages of development? I guess what I am asking really asking is where do you fit in the the development process.

I always get the chance to see what Funcom might have ready at the time I start up. Some times this is a playable part of the game, some times just landscapes and layouts, but often I get in at a pretty early stage when there is little finished content and I have to base my work on descriptions, artwork, storylines, characters etc.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

[Guide] Gear: rings

In this post I will continue series on gear with a strong focus on items that are both powerful and easy enough to get.

For more gear info go to .


(Tier 1) Band of Force (sold by NPC)
 The most basic accesory there is. It can be easily replaced with PVE ring like The Fury of Iziel (which beats this PVP pretty much on every stat). Still it is what it is: low level, cheap, easy to get item. When it comes to power vs accessibility this is the most powerful item that is the easiest to get. Use it till something better comes your way.

(Tier 2) Warlord's Band of Might (sold by NPC)
Very good pvp ring that won't be replaced with any PVE ring for the sheer health to damage ratio. It has it all.

(Tier 3) Highlord's Band of Might (sold by NPC)

 If you compare the stats from T2 ring it almost doesn't make sense to spend hard earned tokens to upgrade your rings to those. Almost. When you will be close to maxing out your gear Critical Rating and Critical Damage Rating stats will become most precious (those are essential to proper build with Master Assassin perk). Having 2 x Highlord rings gives +20 critical rating and it's simply too good to pass up. This wouldn't be high on my priority list to upgrade, but do so eventually.


Pirate Rings (Coast of Ardashir, Isle of Iron Statues)
 Normally I wouldn't cover blue trash items, but those two have such an amazing focus on a single stat that it might pay off to get them. Forceful ring is just over the top when it comes to raw Combat Rating and it will provide you that DPS boost you might need in dungeons. On the other hand Sturdy ring might be a nice second ring that gives you armor and health you will need to power through some tough melee mobs (like those damn Tamarins in Chosain).

Ring of Chthonic Nightmares (Rise of the Godslayer,  Expansion Pack Bonus)
 This is a bonus, account bound item that you can /claim as a  reward for getting collectors edition of ROGS expansion. This ring is packed with two stats that are vital to any assassin stepping through the gates of Khitai: constitution and hit rating. Without hit rating you will miss A LOT while mobs will bring punishment that will get your health down fast. Defiantly it's worth having this ring, especially if you are planning on getting a lot of your alts to Khitai (you can /claim this item for each of your character).


The Fury of Iziel (Thunder River, Xibaluku)

  This ring is one of the best non raiding epic rings in the game and certainly the easiest one to get. It's hard to believe that it's dropped in the old world dungeon because it's stats budget is nothing short of whatever Khitai has to offer. Because this ring gives unholy type of combat rating the assassin can take full advantage of the unholy damage debuffs. The cons to CR rating is also mighty impressive. When you are aiming for health/DPS balance (and you should for solo PVE) this ring is the best one to have and in post ROGS reality Xibaluku should pose any significant challenge.

Death's Ward (sold by Brittle Blade NPC) and Devourer's Ring of the Abyss (Ymir's Pass, Amphitheatre of Karutonia - The Devourer).
 There is little sense in comparing those rings since those are pretty much the same. If I had to pick one I think I would have went for Abyss because of slightly higher crit rating (every little bit counts). Death's Ward can be bough from NPC in Brittle Blade faction. Since we have all those solo instances dropping rares getting DW is not really at that hard. This is all around excellent ring to have both for solo PVE and when you need all the HP you can in certain raid encounters. Abyss ring drops from last boss of unchained version of AOK and it is pretty damn rare to find. The interesting thing is that this ring is bind on equip so you can either keep it for yourself or sell it for small fortune on trader.

Cang-Jai's Whisper (the road/milestones quest given on the first entrance to Khitai) Bone Loop (sold by Priests on Yun NPC)

Those two rings are all about DPSing, but are also packed with hit rating which is very helpful in Khitai. The differences are very minor and you can easily get both of them so there is really no need to pick one. Getting the whisper is much faster and easier thou: Cang-Jei will give you are quest to rebuild his temple which is,oddly enough, the road to the center of empire.. Throughout the game many bosses and mobs will drop 37 symbols that you need to place on the ground to "rebuild" said temple. You can get all the coordinations from Khitai Milestones Quest thread. However you don't really need to get different symbol every time since even placing same item 2 or 10 times will update the quest (and you need 37 updates in total). To get best drop rate you can go to Paikang and just keep killing Quillons/boss grey apes/dark legion soldiers/sharks to get their symbols and then placed them on the road and do it again. You should have 37 updates in no time. As an added bonus you can do another "grindy" epic item quest while killing same mobs (I will cover that in the next guide). The bone loop can be simply bought with rares.

Col of the Jiang Shi (sold by Jiang Shi faction NPC)
Last but not least is my all time favorite ring which is just jam packed with useful stats.  You can use it with Night Spirits daggers (see previous guide) to get absurd chance to perform fatality and crit rating is always a welcomed stat. 
This ring allows for more flexibility when putting different pieces of gear together: you can sacrifice some health on 2-3 armor pieces and still make up for the loss with this ring's jaw dropping constitution. Nevertheless it's more specialized ring, this is something that I would buy last.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

[Guide] Gear: Daggers

In this post I want to start a series on gear with a strong focus on items that are both powerful and easy enough to get. Let be honest: you are not reading this guide because you have T3 crafted dagger, you are reading it because you don't..

When it comes to picking your dagger you want to check out this guide which covers main hand/offhand mechanics.

For more gear info go to .

(Tier 1) Skrimisher's Dirk (sold by NPC)
Very well balanced dagger. It's not an ideal main hand weapon (too low base DPS), but as offhand weapon it will serve you till you get a very high end replacement like pvp lvl 10 dagger (even pvp tier 2 is not better as offhand).

It used to be a much better weapon pre-stamina revamp (because of stamina tap rating), but like I wrote: it will do great as offhander.

Assassin really needs access to good weapon right from the beginning of his pvp carrier (who doesn't, right?) so I would go as far as buying one dagger from in game cash-shop to ease up your bumpy road to pvp lvl 5.

It's a keeper.

(Tier 2) Warlord's Dagger (sold by NPC)

Clear replacement for Skirmisher Dirk as a main hand weapon. It's pretty bad at everything else. Since it's a mediocre weapon I wouldn't get more than one, just keep using Dirk as offhand and you will be good.

If you don't have a good alternative this dagger can be a decent PVE dagger because it has such crushing raw DPS advantage over other non-raiding pve daggers.

(Tier 3) Highlord's Dagger (sold by NPC)
While being good upgrade to both Warlord and Skirmisher this weapon, even thou it requires max pvp lvl, it's still overshadowed by any PVE dagger which is Tier 3 crafted or better. High critical damage rating of this weapon makes worth it to get two of those, especially if you are using master assassin perk and critical rating build.

If you are non-raider then this is the best stuff you can get. You will be competitive in pvp, but far from the numbers T4 daggers can give you.


Asuran Ceremonial Dagger (culture crafted weapon)
 All around great dagger. If you can get your hands on this weapon at low price (ask guild mates to craft it for you, provide mats) it will make an awesome offhander for a long time. Getting Bel's Mirth gem in this weapon is mandatory because it will give you a fair proc chance that will grant you +1400 spell penetration. Meaning? Big ass soul detonation. Without this gem it's just a blue weapon.

Widow's Pain/Scorpion's Pray/Soulreaper (random world drop)
Those 3 daggers have two things in common: those are random drops from bags/chests and all are overpriced as hell in trader. In reality those have about 20-30g worth to them (and that's being generous), but are sold for 100-150g. Absurd price, do not pay! Those daggers have poor stats and will be replaced very fast.

Abyssal Slicer (drops: Ymir's Pass :: Amphitheatre of Karutonia - The Devourer )
Probably best dagger for new assassins. Easy enough to get and with a rough power right from the start. It drops in the new unchained version of AOK (last boss). The immunity rating on this dagger is pretty bad stat, but base DPS makes this perfect main hand weapon.

Dagger of Envy's Fury (Kheshatta :: Black Ring Citadel, quest item)
This is a quest reward for killing one of the tier 2 raid bosses. Can be done with a PUG group. If you had to raid once in your life this would be a weapon to get. Pretty much perfectly balanced dagger with nothing, but useful stats. Unholy combat rating actually gives you more damage that it says because you will be debuffing your target against unholy. Great offhand dagger to go with Abyssal Slicer and you can get them both in a day (if you are lucky). Since Envy's is a quest item you will always get it if the boss is killed. Sadly that also means you can have only one.

Edge of the Night Spirits (sold by NPC, Hyrkanians faction)
So far my favorite weapon. While the base DPS is far from being impressive the rest of the stats are pretty amazing....if you get two of these daggers. When paired up these weapons grant unparalleled critical damage rating, offhand rating and fatality rating. When supplemented with this build, full epic brittle blade armor (for offhand rating and critical damage rating) and this ring (for more fatality rating) you get absurd amount of offhand and bonus critical damage with a very high base chance to proc fatality. Those are not cheap to get and you really need proper gear set up to get the most of it, but when you do it's pays off big time.

As a bonus those dagger have a wicked, very unique look to them.